Tag Archives: norse

Audhumla, Wealth, and War

The ancient Norse relied on cattle for wealth, and the creation myth reflects the understanding they had of sustenance and its origins. The proto-cow, Audhumla, is said to be one of the first living beings to come into existence after the worlds of Niflheim and Muspellheim began to collide with one another in the Ginnungagap. The other was Ymir, the progenitor of the Jotuns. While he was able to reproduce asexually, Audhumla’s milk sustained his life.

Audhumla, who sustained herself by feasting on the poisonous rime that no other creature could tolerate, acted as a catalyst that transformed poison into sustenance. While she could directly partake of the rime, Ymir could not. Yet, Ymir could drink her milk, which would have been a transmuted version of the rime she used to sustain herself.

This is interesting in the context of a culture who relied on cattle for wealth, as a person’s wealth depended on the number of cattle he owned rather than the number of treasures he counted amongst his possessions. The more cattle a person owned, the better his life would be, as he could sustain himself, his family, and potentially his community with the milk and meat the cows provided.

Audhumla, as the cow in the creation myth who helps bring the gods into existence, demonstrates the strong correlation between sustenance and wealth. The vitality of life is the greatest life that a person can receive, and her actions in the myth demonstrate that truth. She is the embodiment of the Fehu rune.

The poem for the (Icelandic) Fehu rune poem translates as “Source of discord among kinsmen /and the fire of the sea/ and path of the serpent” which has some pretty interesting implications.

Wealth as a source of discord amongst people cuts across all recorded history and through all cultures. Every culture, no matter how wealth is defined, struggles to maintain the power balance between those who have it and those who do not. Those struggles are amplified amongst family, which can be seen in the constant struggle between the Aesir and the Jotuns.

Ymir is unable to sustain his own life without taking sustenance from Audhumla. Buri, the first of the gods whom Audhumla reveals, may not need that sustenance from Audhumla, as the way he sustains his life (after being released from the ice) is never mentioned in the myth.

Taking the liberty of extrapolation, let’s assume that Buri doesn’t need anything to sustain his life. Now that he is free of the ice, he is fully capable of sustaining himself through his godly powers of creation. Ymir, on the other hand, is fully dependent on Audhumla for sustenance.

Ymir is constantly producing children asexually, and all of those children share their father’s need to derive sustenance from Audhumla. However, Buri, once he comes into the picture, marries one of these children, and then the first half-Aesir/half-Jotun springs into being.

These children either inherit the Aesir ability to sustain themselves or the inability to do so without Audhumla’s assistance. As they are all kin, it would be natural for those unable to sustain themselves to develop jealousy towards those who have such an ability. With that in mind, it is easy to see how Audhumla can embody the line of the Fehu rune poem that reads “source of discord among kinsmen.”

“Fire of the sea” and “path of the serpent” may both be kennings referencing gold. The Norse viewed gold as being red in color, rather than yellow, so the first is obviously a kenning for gold. Audhumla embodies this concept as she sustains her own life by eating the rime from the rivers that flow from the Hvergelmir, merging together in the Ginnungagap to create the spark of life. In other traditions, the ocean is understood to be the source of all existence, and life itself can be viewed as the greatest wealth any living being may possess.

.As for the “path of the serpent” kenning, “serpent” typically refers to a dragon of some sort, and the Norse viewed dragons as hoarders of wealth. A dragon can no more help its nature as a hoarder than Audhumla can help her nature as a being capable of producing milk that sustains life. While she may not be hoarding her wealth, the fact that there is only one proto-cow rather than hundreds may be an indication of the scarcity of resources that existed in Iceland.

Cattle were wealth which meant life. In cultures with limited resources, warfare and strife among people tends to be higher because people have a desperate drive to survive.

In the myth, for example, Ymir is producing so many Jotuns that the Aesir see that the worlds cannot handle the strain of such an enormous population, so Odin and his brothers slay Ymir and drown the Jotuns in a sea of blood. To say that the Jotuns have the greatest potential for destruction of the three tribes of deities – the Aesir, the Vanir, and the Jotuns – is to ignore the fact that the Aesir reacted to violence with violence and established a war that will eventually result in Ragnarok.

In the Norse pantheon, every single deity is a god of war – there are no exceptions to that. Even the Vanir, who seem far more peace-loving than the others, have started their fair share of wars – Freya and the start of the Aesir-Vanir war is just one example of that.

And that tendency towards warfare is expressed in Audhumla’s being as well. She sustains life, but death is never far away. Her milk keeps death at bay, and it is the war against death that we all fight every day with every breath we take. In a way, life is a war on death, and I’ll leave you with that.

Note: As always, this perspective belongs to me alone. I do not claim to speak for others. 

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Loki Worldbreaker: The Bound God and Overcoming Limitations

Loki, as the bound god, is a symbolic representation of the way that the primal nature of all beings is contained and constrained by an imposed social order. The binding of Loki is never fully explained in the lore. While suggestions exist that the binding originated from his suspected role in Baldr’s death (Saxo’s version of the Baldr myth is void of Loki’s presence entirely), these suggestions are, at best, speculation if not outright conjecture.

Another mythos that contains a story about a bound god is the Greek one, in which Prometheus is confined for his audacity in stealing fire from the gods and thwarting Zeus’s plan to destroy humanity. Many scholars have compared Prometheus and Loki, so it is probable that a story of a similar vein underpins the binding Loki endures.

Because so many of the old stories have been lost, it is important to understand that both the concept of Loki being bound as punishment for his role in Baldr’s death and the concept of Loki being bound for reasons similar to those for which Prometheus was bound are speculation, at best.

Still, the image of Loki as a bound god does provide a lens through which to view the god as a god who overcomes limitations. Allegorically, the binding of Loki – no matter the reason for its occurrence – demonstrates an almost desperate need to halt the forward motion of chaotic change. The lore prophecy states that Loki will be the one to instigate Ragnarok after he slips his chains, so the binding serves the purpose of keeping the world from disintegrating.

However, the world cannot stay in-tact forever, and, eventually, Loki slips his bonds. Every time this happens, Ragnarok occurs, and the world is destroyed and subsequently recreated. The cycle of creation-destruction-creation (a.k.a life-death-rebirth) persists in mythologies across the globe, and it has only been since the introduction of Abrahamic doctrine that the cycle has changed from life-death-rebirth to life-death-afterlife.

Loki comes in as the god that overcomes limitations when he slips the bindings the other gods have forged for him to fulfill the role he was always meant to play. In this, he demonstrates that all beings cannot escape the limitation of their own nature – no matter how hard we try to run from ourselves, we cannot escape the truth of our own person.

He shows us where the limits truly lay – inside ourselves – and where they don’t…everywhere else. Loki’s actions often upset the social order. Sometimes, these ways displease the other gods. When Loki steals Sif’s hair, the other gods are displeased, and Loki has to make amends, which he does with an incredible degree of resourcefulness. He relies on his own skillset – his silver tongue – to con the dwarves into making a beautiful gold wig – and makes amends with the other gods so flawlessly that they are awed by the wig rather than concerned with the mischief he originally wrought when he cut Sif’s hair.

In the myths, Loki is either getting himself in trouble and finding clever ways to fix the problems he creates, or he is helping the other gods fix problems. In either case, he is always portrayed as the one who finds the solution to the original problem – whether he is directly responsible for the problem or not is of no concern.

A lot of people get stuck on this point when they try to understand Loki for the first time. They read the myths, and all they see is Loki causing mischief. They contend that Loki solving the problem afterwards doesn’t matter because Loki’s presence is the very reason the problem occurred.

That line of reasoning lends itself to an inability to appreciate that Loki’s resourcefulness and problem-solving are central to his character. Whether Loki’s presence creates the problem isn’t the point – he is the one who has the strategic cleverness that allows him to find solutions that the other gods overlook.

Loki’s ability to overcome limitations allows him to assist the other gods in ways that end up benefiting them to an extreme degree. Unlike many of the others, Loki has no problem defying social norms when necessary to get a problem solved. When Thor loses his hammer, Loki is the one who suggests that Thor dress as Freyja to win it back from Thrym. Thor is, as convention dictates, uncomfortable at the suggestion but listens to Loki’s advice. Loki’s advice proves sound, as Thor soon reclaims Mjolnir.

Actually, speaking of Mjolnir, Thor would not have such a magnificent weapon if it weren’t for Loki’s cunning in his dealing with the dwarves. Odin would lack Draupnir and Gungnir, Freyr would lack Skithblathnir, and Sif her golden wig – to name a few of the gifts that Loki negotiated with the dwarves to claim for the gods. In his negotiations with the dwarves, he overcomes the limitation of the dwarves’ reluctance to craft these items.

Mostly, when it comes to limitations, Loki is the god of overcoming the limitations that others present. He is a force against conformity, though it is doubtful he would support nonconformity simply for the sake of nonconformity. When Loki breaks from the social order of the Aesir, he does so in ways that work in the favor of the gods.

When Loki is bound, he is no longer able to control his own abilities. By my own understanding (i.e. upg), he is one of the oldest deities of the Norse pantheon. He is the embodiment of change and, eventually, he loses the ability to control that side of himself. The binding the other gods force on him only hold him back for so long, as nothing can stave off change permanently. Once he breaks those bindings, Ragnarok occurs, and the world begins again.

 

Note: Many Lokeans shy away from Loki’s Worldbreaker aspect, claiming that the story of Ragnarok was Christianized and not an original part of Norse mythology. The collected evidence doesn’t support that theory, and it is far more likely that the Ragnarok story is a different version of a well-established creation-destruction-recreation (life-death-rebirth) of the world demonstrated in a multitude of other mythologies. Refusing to engage in these conversations makes it far easier for Heathens to view Loki as a Nordic Satan rather than develop a fuller understanding of Loki’s character. This is, therefore, my attempt to address a question often ignored by other Lokeans (and, as always, this is my interpretation and my interpretation alone).

On the Worship of Loki – A Facebook Discussion Response

The following is the response I gave to a TAC (The Asatru Community) facebook discussion where the original poster said “Debate* worship of Loki.”

Having read through all of this, I see a lot of people have some very strong opinions about Loki. I’m the admin for the Loki’s Wyrdlings page (found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/959611187421203/?ref=bookmarks), and I serve Loki as a priest. I have quite a bit to say, but I want to start off by saying that this is how I perceive Loki, and I do not expect anyone to agree with me – everyone is entitled to their own path, no matter how different it may be from mine.

So, first – Loki has many, many aspects. He is the Catalyst of Change (generically, the trickster). He is the Worldbreaker – the role he plays in Ragnarok is very real. Even here, however, he is playing a role. The world must always end and begin again, and Loki plays a key role in the change. I could go in-depth to the way I understand the Baldur myth, but I will hold off until/unless someone asks for further clarification.

Second – someone up above said that everyone they knew who honored Loki did so in a vacuum, where Loki alone was honored and the other deities ignored. Personally, I have rarely found this to be true. I myself honor many deities, both within the Norse pantheon and outside it. I work with Freyr, Odin, Freyja, Sigyn, Ullr, Mani, Tyr, and Thor within the Norse pantheon. Outside it, I work with Queztalcoatl and Bast. In my experience, most people who honor Loki honor a plethora of deities because Loki is an incredibly social god who seems to know all the deities in all the other pantheons and is incredibly willing to help people find the connections that others need with the deities.

I’m aware that within Asatru, it is far more common for people to work with ancestors and land-spirits than with deities, and if that is the path your spirituality takes, I have no qualms with it. I have a good relationship with my ancestors and the spirits residing on my land, but my practice primarily revolves around the gods and the relationships I’ve formed with them.

Loki is a deity of connection and self-knowledge – he doesn’t allow people who honor him to lie to themselves for very long, and that is why he can be a difficult god to work with. Someone once told me that the version of Loki who shows up is the version of Loki you expect – if you expect him to be evil and ill-humored, that is what he will give you. If you expect him to be friendly and compassionate, that is what he will give you. He shows up the way you expect him to show up because he has a tendency to reflect your deepest secrets and hidden neuroses to you in such a way you cannot deny that they exist.

Another thing that someone above pointed out is that everyone they’ve ever met has worked with Loki due to the Marvel movies or to be edgy. When I started working with Loki, I hadn’t seen the Marvel movies. I had just finished reading the Lokasenna, and I was incredibly amused by how he had been called the god of lies while telling the truth the entire time. I was instantly drawn to him because he refused to sugarcoat the truth, and I’ve been criticized my entire life for being too honest with people.

That being said, I’ve known people who have come to Loki through the Marvel movies. More than any other deity I work with, Loki seems to enjoy inserting his presence into fictional streams in order to find people who understand him. He is a social deity – he wants to have tons of friends among mortals, so he finds them through whatever avenue he can. Considering the problematic equation of Loki = bad or Loki = devil typically found within Asatru, it is no wonder to me that he seeks people from outside of the community. He is an inherent problem-solver, and the easiest way to solve a problem is often to circumvent it.

Another person stated that Loki is the type to use and discard those who come to him. Up until that point, I was enjoying the back-and-forth because Loki loves to watch people argue over him (his vanity is pretty high, so any attention is good attention). While some people may have the misfortune to be used and discarded by Loki, it is typically only the people who expect that from him who will find that to be true. Loki is one of the least self-serving deities I know, and his compassion knows no bounds.

There is a reason those who work with Loki are often those found on the fringes of society – the disabled, the mentally handicapped, those with mental disorders, those with marginalized gender identities, those within the LGBTQ+ community, etc. Loki prizes the people society discards because he knows what it is like to exist on the fringe. His godhood is constantly questioned, and he is accepted with unease except by those who know him well, which is a very small number. Loki sees the value and potential in the people that society is too quick to turn away from, and he never turns his back on anyone who truly commits to understanding him. He gives people the compassion they need when they need it most, but he also gives people the tools they need to look inside themselves and do a deep inventory of their own neuroses.

That is my experience of Loki. I don’t expect anyone else’s experiences to match, as all spiritual paths are valid and unique. This is simply a final disclaimer – I do not claim to speak for all Lokeans or all Heathens. This is simply my perspective.

Please keep in mind that this is part of a larger conversation – I am posting it here because someone asked to use the response with appropriate credit. I am posting it in my blog to make it easier for others to access and credit appropriately.

 

On the Nature of the Norse Gods

I’ve mentioned before how the Norse Pantheon is comprised of war gods – there isn’t a single deity that cannot be connected, in some way, to war. I’ve just started reading Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion by Edward P. Butler, and it already has me thinking – a sign that it is an excellent book.

He mentions using Sallustius’s five models of interpretations for myth with a heavy focus on the theological interpretation. The five models are theological, physical, psychical, material, and mixed. What is meant by the theological interpretation is the way that the very essence of the gods can be considered. Butler states, “The total body of myths belonging to a culture forms a comprehensive paradigm of the cosmos as expressed within that cultural sphere.”

I wrote awhile ago on the avenues I personally feel need to be explored in order to fully comprehend a polytheistic tradition, which you can read here, and one of the avenues I mentioned is cosmogony.

I’ve been thinking about the Norse creation myth recently, and as I was reading through part of Butler’s work, I made connections that I wasn’t really expecting to make but which made sense upon reflection.

As I said, the Norse gods are gods of war, and that nature can be seen within the creation myth itself. Life emerges from conflict, from the meeting of elements of opposite natures. Fire and ice merge to create life, which is ironic as both elements are more than capable of destroying life as well. Both are so powerful in their own right that they cannot retain their own forms in the presence of the other, so they are forever altered by the interaction, and life comes forth in the shape of an asexual giant.

In some ways, Ymir can be viewed as the personification of the force of ice, as he is the first frost giant ever born. Audhumla comes forth as well, and she nourishes Ymir. She provides him with the sustenance to sustain his life. While doing so, she uncovers the first god in the ice, bringing him forth into being. She is able to melt the ice, and so it may be possible to view her as the personification of the force of fire. The two primeval beings created from the two primeval elements after coming into contact with one another. Buri, the first of the gods, may represent the first combination of the two elements in a single form. He is born of both fire and ice – encased in ice, frozen in time, he is given life by Audhumla’s actions, making him the first being to be created from a combination of elements.

Of course, while Audhumla is freeing Buri from the ice, Ymir is busy asexually reproducing more frost giants. The giants born from him are, like him, born entirely of ice. We aren’t told that Audhumla frees anyone else from the ice, so there’s no way to know for sure if Buri is the only god that she brings to life this way. What is noted next is that Buri has a son Bor (whose origin is never mentioned) and that Bor marries a giant named Bestla and the two of them give birth to Odin, Vili, and Ve.

Whether Buri has Bor through procreation or asexual reproduction is never mentioned, so it is hard to make any inferences from the fact that Bor is Buri’s son. On the other hand, we know that Bor marries Bestla – a god with a giant – and that’s that first real indication we have of the mixing of gods and giants. Bestla, as a giant, most likely came into existence through Ymir’s asexual reproductive habits, and it can be presumed that she, like all other frost giants at the time, is representative of the primeval power of the element of ice. At the same time, Bor has a mixture of both fire and ice within him, as he is the son of Buri who is also of mixed elements. Through the introduction of the mixed elements of fire and ice into the giant’s gene pool, the Aesir gods are born.

The fire within Bor introduced to Bestla ran contrary to her nature – as a being of pure ice, any form of fire should not have been able to take hold. And yet it did. And through that conflict, the Aesir gods come into being. They are birthed through the conflict of primeval elements at war with one another.

A conflict which continues with the problem that Odin, Vili, and Ve have with Ymir that results in his death. I’ve read a couple of theories as to why Ymir was seen as a threat. One theory is that he was overpopulating the world with frost giants with his asexual reproduction and needed to be stopped. Another theory is that he became so greedy for the sustenance Audhumla provided him that he killed her, and the gods killed him in revenge. The first seems more plausible to me, as I can’t fathom why anyone would kill their only source of sustenance – it’d be counter to the survival instinct.

Either theory can be viewed in the light of a conflict between the two creative/destructive elements of ice and fire. The gods, who have the power of creation and thus represent an embodiment of fire, have a power of creation very different from that of the frost giants. Ymir’s asexual reproduction can be seen as a type of creative power that was quickly spiraling out of control and becoming destructive,if utilizing the theory that the Aesir trio killed him because of the overpopulation of the world. The creative power the Aesir have is much more controlled, which can be seen in the way they carefully craft the earth out of Ymir’s remnants after they slay him. Nothing goes to waste – everything is re-purposed.

If, however, we view the myth from the angle that Ymir becomes so greedy he cannot control himself and kills Audhumla, we also see the destructive power of ice. The Aesir trio may have killed him to avenge Audhumla, but it is more likely that they killed him to prevent any further destruction. In this case, as well, we see the creative power of the element of ice being overtaken by its destructive power.

The Aesir are able to halt the destruction because they have both fire and ice elements within them. For that reason, they can slow the destructive nature of the primeval ice world that flows within their veins, and they can use the power of fire to restructure the world. Fire is a crafting power when used creatively, but it also has the ability to overwhelm its creative power through its destructive power. It is through the mix of the two elements that the gods are able to stay the destructive powers of both elements and utilize the constructive powers of each.

And they use those powers to craft worlds out of Ymir’s remains. Ymir’s blood floods the world, and only two giants are able to escape the aftermath. A sign, perhaps, that the primordial element of ice cannot be entirely eliminated from the world, especially as it was one of the elements that helped create the world. The gods use every piece of Ymir to create Midgard, letting nothing go to waste. Out of the conflict they had with him, they create something new. Out of conflict and destruction, creation and construction emerge.

Through all of this, of course, there’s a backdrop – the Ginnungagap. The Void. The Nothingness of Non-Existence through which the elements of both Muspellheim and Niflheim must pass in order to come into contact with one another to allow for life to take shape at all. It is the Unknowable Mystery, and the concept of such a Non-Existence is impenetrable, as our minds slide around it as we try to grasp it. Trying to do so, in actuality, might drive someone insane. Because it is not possible to know non-existence, as non-existence, in our reality, does not exist, and, therefore, the concept of it is not easily (or ever) grasped.

But it is this concept that the gods are intimately familiar with, as they originally live within the Ginnungagap. It is to the center of this place that they take Ymir’s body and use his remains to create Midgard. It is from this Non-Existence that physical reality emerges, the place from which Midgard comes forth. There is an inherent contradiction there that is not possible to resolve because it is a concept that we cannot grasp – that existence comes from non-existence, and that non-existence itself in some form exists. Our minds aren’t readily made to deal with such concepts…if they were, then the contemplation of the existence of non-existence wouldn’t have the potential to drive us mad.

For the gods, however, they existed within the Ginnungagap at the beginning. They dealt with the conflict between the two primordial worlds of fire and ice and saw the results of having the two elements mixed. They were born into a world of conflict, a world at war with itself, and it seems natural that they became deities of war because of that. In some ways, it could perhaps be argued that the Norse gods are gods at war with themselves, as they possess the inherent properties of the creative and destructive nature of fire, ice, and non-existence. It is a testament to how complex the nature of the gods are that it is so difficult to get a firm grasp on what may be the essence that defines them, the essence that sets them apart from us and makes them gods instead of men.

I find it fascinating to find such a connection to the Aesir as gods of war through the cosmogony of the Norse tradition, and I enjoy analyzing myths from multiple vantage points. I will not say that this is the only interpretation of this myth that is plausible, nor that it defines the nature of the gods. This is only one of my own interpretations – I don’t limit myself to a singular interpretation of any myth (notice, I even explored two different theories in this one about Ymir) – and it is not meant to be reflective of anyone else’s experiences, practices, or beliefs.